Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Flat or Edge?

Or "The difference between theory and practice is that in theory, there is no difference".

My friends often send me things that they think I might find informative, or amusing, or that they would like my thoughts on.

I just got a message forwarded to me by a friend from one of the Filipino Martial Arts lists regarding a video clip. He was interested in my opinion of a comment about the clip.

The clip in question was of another friend explaining some points on machete work from a couple of different perspectives.

Here is the clip:

Bobbe does his blade thing

Now before we go on, I should mention that there has been, among the academicians (or perhaps the theologians) of the so called "blade culture" a debate raging for years. One side states that "a true and realistic swordsman will never parry with the edge of his blade, it is just not done, and has never been done by real swordsmen."

The other side of this argument claims "a true and realistic swordsman will never parry with the flat of his blade, it is just not done, and has never been done by real swordsmen."

The argument between these two camps blazes up in the flames of Internet controversy every now and again across the various forums and lists. Names are called, insults are delivered, nothing is solved.

This brings us to the comment in question:

A very good clip. The most revealing piece on this clip was at the very end when the instructor used a blade edge to blade edge deflection as he ducked to his left and set up his counter. The long and short of it all? He's not a realistic blade-man.
You should NEVER go blade edge to blade edge! Flat side for either a forehand or backhand position is fine, but NEVER edge to edge!
Now I don't know this guy. Like all people who have been involved in the Martial arts for more than an hour and a half, there are people who think well of him and people who hate his guts. (what a surprise) but from talking to people who have had contact with him, who's opinions I trust, I understand that he is a competent stick player, Modern Arnis I believe.

What he isn't is anyone who has real knowledge of fighting with a long blade. Please note I did NOT say "sparring" or "training" or "doing drills", I said fighting.

Fighting, as in combat with real blades, with the intent to bring death or grave bodily harm to your opponent, who is trying to do the same to you.

If you are wondering what makes me draw this conclusion, it is this sentence. "He's not a realistic blade-man. You should NEVER go blade edge to blade edge!" Notice that all caps "NEVER"?

Spoken like a true ivory tower academic!

I am going to address this statement from a few different viewpoints.

First from the point of view of a blacksmith.

I have about forty years of experience in the art of shaping iron and steel. In that time I have made hundreds of blades, large and small, and have tested many of them to destruction in order to understand the truth about their properties.

I have also examined literally hundreds of blades used in combat over the years in museums, exhibits and private collections to understand the kinds of stresses that they underwent.

Academic dogmas of the edge versus flat schools aside, this is what empirical study has led me to conclude. (I will be speaking here in terms of swords, being as that gives us the most data on edge to edge and edge to flat contact)

Both being struck on the edge and the flat by the edge of another sword can and will damage a blade and both can cause failure. Of the two, edge to edge contact causes the most damage, and most quickly brings the blade to the point of failure. Every time a notch is made in the edge of a blade it creates a "stress raiser", which is a flaw that concentrates stress in that area. Stress raisers are probably one of the most common reasons for blade failure in combat, at least with a well made, well tempered blade.

When a (long) blade is struck it needs to deform in such a way that the stress of the blow is spread equally throughout the blade, and then be able to return to "true". A stress raiser stops the spread of stress through the blade and causes flaws to develop with each blow to the sword.

A blow to the flat of a blade can also cause stress raisers, but rarely to the extent that an edge to edge strike will. A strike to the flat of a blade with an edge at ninety degrees has the greatest possibility of doing damage.

For an interesting view of what I am talking about, the TV show Myth Busters did a segment on the myth of one sword cutting another in half.

They built a spring powered swing arm, mounted a good sword on it and tried to cut through (break) several different swords cutting edge to flat.

They only managed to break one sword, a cheap katana made fro 440 series stainless steel, which is an abysmally bad steel for swords. All the other swords flexed with the blow and did not break, though a couple took a set.

We can conclude from this that it is preferable to take a blow on the flat of the blade rather than the edge, ideally at an acute or obtuse angle.

That being said, of the swords I have examined which actually saw combat, almost all of them showed edge to edge contact.

This brings me to my second "voice", that of someone who has both been trained to the blade, has fought against people who were trying to kill me with a blade, and has seen real combat with long blades.

Anyone who uses words like "never" and always" in the context of real combat is likely not speaking from actual experience, but only from theory. Theory is great on the mat, but if adhered to rigidly in combat is likely to get you killed.

The other guy is called "The Enemy" for a reason.

He will do everything possible to make sure that you are fighting from a disadvantage. He will try to prevent you from making the perfect parry, he will try to keep you off balance, he will mess up your timing, he will confuse and surprise you. That is the point of the exercise.

Consequently, you may find yourself, from time to time, fighting from an odd position, or just a bit out of time, and, Heaven forfend, you may just have to parry with the edge of your sword.

In other words, "edge happens".

Now as it happens, I have crossed blades with Bobbe a time or two.

Love me or hate me, friend or enemy, I don't think that there is anyone who has spent time with me that would not say that I know a thing or two about blade combat. I don't claim to be the end all, do all of knife work, but I can say I am a survivor, which counts for something in certain circles.

Bobbe is smart, fast, smooth, cunning, treacherous, and has a survivor's instinct to do whatever is needed to go home to his wife, he is in fact everything a "realistic blade-man" is.

The dilettante who presumes to tell us what a realistic blade man will NEVER do is in fact not fit to hold Bobbe's scabbard. What a realistic blade-man (or woman as a matter of fact) does is survive, even if he gets a notch in his blade.

finally, I want to speak from the perspective of the anthropologist.

This is what I have determined, after years studying people who actually fought with blades from Sumer to Europe. A realistic blade-man when fighting in real combat, not some silly dual or the like, did not prefer to take a parry on either the flat or the edge of his sword, he would rather use his shield.

Swords are expensive, often the equivalent to the price of a car, shields are cheap and easily replaceable.

Realistic blade-men from Egypt 2000 BCE to the rice patties of Mindanao prefer to parry with their shield, but will use the flat of their blade, or even the edge if it keeps them alive and sends their enemy off the the after life of their choice.

Just say'n, ya know?


Carlos said...

Mushtaq Ali, you're a wise, knowledgeable and experienced man!

Steve Perry said...

Thanks, Mushtaq, for this post.

The times I have been to museums or seen old swords up close, I also noticed there were edge-nicks that had to be made by another edge.

In the golok drills we've been doing, we routinely block with the edge and the spine, and with the blade angled point-down a lot of the time. Given that these are guardless blades, that's pretty much a necessity ...

Bobbe Edmonds said...

I appreciate you saying this Mushtaq, and I'm a tad amused my little videos cause so much outcry. These aren't aimed at the general public, they were shot by a student of mine whenever we covered a wide range of techniques, or I was doing a comprehensive class. You're only getting a brief overview of two hours (or two weeks) of class condensed into a few minutes. This is hardly a criteria for judgment, however I believe my videos stand on their own. That which is true can withstand any scrutiny, that which is false cannot.

If you put something personal to you on the web then you should expect others to throw criticism at it, instructive or destructive, and I am well aware that my cavalier approach to teaching coupled with my style of Martial Arts is Wolfshead at best (considering how many organizations I have either quit or been chucked out of), but I am constantly amazed at the amount of "experts" who find the smallest discrepancy (to them) and use it as a flag to rally the troops.

I truly feel that I give out good information, and if all you could see was "Oh look, his thumb was off by three degrees!" I think you're stretching it a bit thin. That's the difference between theoretical and applicative: One is saying, the other is doing.

For those who care to see it, I have another video of the same technique with me using only the FLAT of the edge every time:

At any rate, if I happen to suffer the occasional sniping from various martial art camps I suppose that validates my art: They wouldn't bother if I didn't know anything.

Mushtaq Ali said...

You know of course Steve, that now someone will come around and tell us that Guru Plinck is "not a realistic blade-man" because he has parried with an unapproved part of the blade.


Steve Perry said...

Look, he knocked five guys on their asses in like three seconds!

Yeah. But his thumb was off three degrees, so it doesn't count. And he'd didn't do the little bird kiai, and worse, he didn't hold the pose long enough at the end ...

Brian said...

Hmmm, seems I have used the shield analogy for years and have heard from the arnis Kali camps blade to blade!!!
I was told long ago that a sword was a family weapon to be taken care of for passing down. Just goes to show you

Puting Carabao aka Mike B. said...

Edge Smedge, Flat Shmatt...if this ding dong who says "NEVER" has ever been stabbed or faced a bladed foe his opinion would surely change. In reality it happens quicker than crap threw a goose and if all you can do is throw up your blade to stop from being shanked then so be it. I would suffice to say that being struck by a busted up edged weapon sharp or not would severely put a damper on the day. Those type of statements that say NEVER or dog a person, when to the masses it was obvious that Bobbe was just breaking down options makes me go further and further underground..I tire of all the BS in the martial arts world, and to be honest outside of you fine lot here and a couple of others I am making it a point to just stay away from the politics and BS from never will be's.